Remembering, and never forgetting, September 11, 2001

By Ben Rohrbach | September 11, 2011

Trying to find an essay I wrote as a junior at Boston University in September 2001, I sifted through a ton of old floppy disks (remember those?) before realizing that someone stole the computer that stored all those files out of my Southie apartment a few years back.

I bitched about that for a while, and then it hit me. I remember almost everything from that essay, just as I remember almost everything about the minutes, hours, days, weeks and even years that followed September 11 a decade ago. How could I forget? I'€™ll never forget.

Like every Tuesday morning that fall, I sat in an early morning English class, still waking up. While we discussed dangling participles, conjunction functions or whatever the hell was on the syllabus that day, unbeknownst us, terrorists were flying planes into buildings.

Around 10 a.m., on Commonwealth Avenue, students weren't smoking on the steps or colliding with each other on their way to another class. The few who weren't still in their dorm rooms or watching TV in the student union were standing by cars, listening to radios.

In silence.

I listened to WEEI on my bike ride to and from class, so I had a Walkman (remember those?). I'€™m not sure whose voice I heard first, but Dale Arnold and Bob Neumeier had the impossible task of conveying over radio the imagery of hijacked commercial airliners careening into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.

Across the street, The Dugout was already open, if only so people could huddle around a TV at the near end of the bar. Gasps from those who just watched the South Tower collapse welcomed me through the door, and my own audible inhale followed when the North Tower fell around 10:30. The bartender poured beers, just to settle nerves.

It didn't help.

Was my best friend and roommate'€™s sister, who worked in downtown New York City, OK? I called from a payphone (remember those?). "I don'€™t know," he said. "She'€™s not answering her phone."

What must my neighbors — Yankees fans whose families, friends and classmates lived and worked in Manhattan — be thinking? I rode home and knocked on their door. Too soon to tell.

Like everyone, we sat glued to the television, watching our country'€™s finest and bravest respond to terrorist acts committed by the world'€™s most loathsome, completing the greatest rescue mission in U.S. history. I grew up wondering what spine-tingling speeches from FDR and JFK felt like in the moment, and here I was watching one delivered by President George W. Bush.

A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack, because we’€™re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.

Two days later, my roommates and I did the most American thing we could imagine, tailgating at a classic rock concert. From Boston to Great Woods, a sea of Stars and Stripes filled the highway, American flags waving from truck beds and station wagon windows. Inside, John Mellencamp (or John Cougar or whatever he was calling himself back then) held a microphone to the crowd as the band played "Pink Houses," and we sung in unison, "Ain'€™t that America, for you and me. Ain'€™t that America, something to see.  Ain'€™t that America, home of the free."

A week later, we attended Fenway Park. I can'€™t recall who the Red Sox played. Didn't matter. Fans of both teams drowned out whoever sang "God Bless America" that night.

God bless America, land that I love, stand beside her and guide her, through the night with a light from above; from the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam, God bless America, my home, sweet home.

Pretty soon, weeks turned to months, and months turned to wars, and wars turned to years, and years turned to movies mocking the president, conspiracy theories,  political in-fighting and sensational headlines about a 9/11 widow'€™s entanglement in the Tiger Woods saga. In other words, life returned to normal for most of us, even if for others it never will.

Every so often, something jars these memories. Osama bin Laden'€™s demise. A particularly moving rendition of '€œThe Star-Spangled Banner,'€ like the combined military academy choirs before Super Bowl XXXIX. A high school classmate'€™s death, along with 21 fellow Navy SEALs, in an Afghanistan helicopter crash. The wonderfully written series finale of "œRescue Me."

Every anniversary of September 11, 2001 is one of those moments.

So, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, as I enjoy the simplest of things that make this country the greatest on Earth — watching a couple football games sandwiched around a neighborhood block party — I remember. I remember how those awful people tried to take all that away from us on a fall morning a decade ago, how thousands of brave firefighters, police officers and rescue workers proved them wrong and how the men and women of our military continue to ensure that they never will. I'€™ll remember, because I'€™ll never forget.